The Slóvo falls into three distinct parts, each of them subdivisible. The episode eternized by the author is very slight, one of the many forays against the nomad foes, with whom, for the rest, these Russian princes never scrupled to ally themselves in their perpetual dynastic and territorial quarrels. But Ígoŕ, to judge by the space his exploits occupy in the Chronicles, seems to have been a romantic and impulsive figure, and this particular raid receives very much more than the usual allowance of space. Still, to eke out the tale, the author in true epic style introduces a mass of material, incidental and illustrative.
In the first section of Part I, (l. 1-28) the poet opens by hesitating whether he shall tell the weary story of Ígoŕ's expedition in the old-world
style of Boyán [or Yan], or in contemporary manner, probably like the ballads, (a diffuse method of narration with many repetitions, and couched in a loose metre of long lines with four or five accentual beats). He passes on to a eulogy of Boyán the wizard, whose fingers made the harpstrings live, in recording the feats of the princes three and four generations back.
The next section (ll. 29-37) states the scope of the invention of the author, from Vladímir I to his contemporary Ígoŕ; and passes on to the third (ll. 38-58) where in words almost identical with the Chronicles, Ígoŕ, despite the evil omen of an eclipse of the sun (astronomically verified to the hour) summons his men, he being fierily eager,--as the Chronicles tell,--to avenge the imagined slight that he had taken no share in the victory of the previous year 1184.
At l. 38 the action begins in words very nearly identical with the Chronicles.
The author, in the fourth section (ll. 59-78), characteristically interrupts the narrative, this time with an invocation of Boyán, whose inspiration extended back to the legendary days of Troyán, probably representing the founders of the Scandinavian dynasty. He quotes some of Boyán's lines, and composes a sequel in the same style, but applicable to his own day.
In the fifth section (ll. 79-99) the action of the poem is resumed. Vsévolod in a spirited speech,--which points a moral against others' indifference,--announces his readiness to help his brother; and the following division (ll. 100-112) relates how they start, how evil were the portents.
But (ll. 113-135) the enemy are making their preparations and the Russian force is cut off from its base.
Section Eight (ll. 136-148) describes the first day of battle, and the Russian victory, the looting of the Polovsk tents; followed by a night of ill-judged repose (149-155).
The tenth sub-division gives a brief narrative of the second day's fight (156-189) and the countless re-inforcements of the barbarian enemy.
Again (section XI, ll. 190-208) other matter is interposed; the panegyric of Vsévolod who showed such valour; and in section XII (ll. 209-249) there follows a reminiscence of the days of Rurik and Yarosláv the Great and of Olég of Tmutarakáń, the ancestor of the Ólgoviči, the house ousted from Kíev by Vladímir II. The exploits of Olég and his associate Borís Vyáčeslavič, the battle on the Nežátin are mentioned; the author deplores that the children of the civilizing Sun, the Russians were and are wasting their blood in internecine strife.
Section XIII (250-284) describes the battle during the next night, and the morning of the next day; the language is powerful and poetic; the calamity expressed in words of striking simplicity and pathos. Ígoŕ has fallen; his banners are the enemy's prize; the brothers are separated.
So the first part ends; and the second, the longest, touches on the woes of Russia consequent on this defeat, and the misery inflicted on her by her disunion.
The first section (ll. 284-308) is a gruesome account of how Discord arose, and Ignominy walked abroad. So, too, after this disaster; when Končák the Polovsk leader used the Greek fire against the cities of Russia, (ll. 309-331) and the women of Russia wept, and Kíev was oppressed with grief. The cause is ever the same; civil strife, whilst the pagan gathers tribute. But this was Russia's secular bane; tinder the Tatar rule, those immense territories could not combine for defence; only the iron hand of Moscow could enforce union and despotism.
The third movement of this part (ll. 332-360) continues in the same strain; that Ígoŕ and Vsévolod have courted disgrace and contrasts Svyatosláv III, the reigning prince at Kíev, who had in 1184 gained such a glorious victory. And, all the nations rang with his praise.
At this point (section IV ll. 361-389) the poet interposes another subject, the Dream of Svyatosláv, and its interpretation by his boyárs. He had dreamed he had been given wine mixed with dust; that the mainstays of his house had been sapped; for on that fatal Third day two such mighty princes had been defeated, and the Lights of Russia extinguished (Section V. ll. 390-413) on the Kayála river; whilst the maidens rejoiced on the shore of the Black sea.
After this lyric interruption, the poet (section VI II. 414-452) resumes the lament of Svyatosláy. This "golden word" is terse and moving. Ígoŕ and Vsévolod are valiant, but headstrong. Yet Svyatosláv sees no aid approaching from his powerful Galician ally Yarosláv Vladímirkovič who could summon the mercenaries from beyond the Carpathians. Nor is there any relief going out to the city of Rim which the Pólovtsy have sacked and gutted.
At section VII (l. 453) the poet leaves Svyatosláv and addresses the principal territorial rulers of his time, who are backward in offering assistance. First of all, he adjures Vsévolod Yúrevič, the sovereign of Suzdal (the Northern state which had already gained practical supremacy (ll. 453-464). Vsévolod had in 1182 conducted an expedition against the Bolgars of the North; if he would help, slaves would be cheap again!
Next (ll. 465-476) he demands succour of Ruric and David Rostíslavič, princes of Smolénsk.
Thirdly (ll. 477-494) he directs himself to Yarosláv of Galicia, a wise and circumspect ruler over an immense territory bounded by the Carpathians for all their length, and bordering on Poland. Yarosláv was also Ígoŕ's father-in-law.
Fourthly, Roman and Mstíslav Rostíslavič (ll. 495-516) of Smolénsk † are besought for aid. These campaigned beyond the Tátra
range of the Carpathians, and amongst the Lithuanians; will they not turn their arms nearer home to the frontier rivers of the East?
Next, the poet requests help (ll. 517-530) of Ingváŕ and Vsévolod Yaroslávič of Lutsk, another branch of this prolific house. [v. the genealogy], and joins with them the three Mstíslaviči, their first cousins. Of all of these the poet records no good done; will they not bestir themselves?
Now the writer prepares the way for suggestive reminiscences of chieftains of the past. He recalls (ll. 531-557) the heroic death of Izyasláv Vasíl’kovič of the house of Polotsk, fighting alone and unaided of his brothers against the Lithuanians. It is curious that this is one of the few references for which no authority can be found in the Chronicles. The tone of these lines carries conviction of their factual truth and is strong evidence of contemporary authorship. The same expressions of ceremonial mourning are used of this Izyasláv, as of Ígoŕ (555-557).
After this long section of the poem, we find a general imprecation against the sluggishness of the princes of the day, addressed to the cowardly brother of Svyatosláv III, Yarosláv Vsévolodovič, and to all of the descendants of the great Vséslav of Polotsk (ll. 558-568). The writer, whose sympathies are entirely with what the historians regard as the rebellious houses of Polotsk and the Ólgoviči, still accuses these princelets of degeneration from ancestral valour, and of utilizing barbarian mercenaries, rather than fending off the national foe. With this introduction of Vséslav who revolted so successfully against Vladímir II, he enters on the ninth section (ll. 569-611).
This is one of the difficult and corupt passages in the text; full of references which have been the standing puzzles of all interpreters.
The author selects the episode of the battle on the Nemíga, after Vséslav had sacked Nóvgorod and Pskov, when Vséslav was treacherously imprisoned at Kíev. For nine months he was chosen Grand Prince of Kíev, whilst his enemy Izyasláv, the reigning prince, was in exile in Poland; on Izyasláv's approach he fled secretly by night to Bělgorod and thence home to Polotsk. Vséslav in the ballads was turned into a wizard, and in these passages the writer of the Slóvo accumulates a perplexing detail of mythological and superstitious lore, with incidental mention of those riddling persons Boyán and Troyán.
From Vséslav (ll. 611-620) the poet passes on to a brief mention of Vladímir I, whose energy was never abated.
A new section opens (ll. 621-662) the lament of Evfrósyna Yaroslávna, Ígoŕ's wife. It is not too much to say that this portion of the poem is one of the most beautiful heroic lyrics known. It is no doubt based on some pagan incantation of the four elements and splits up into four sections, her resolve to bind her hero's wounds, her appeals to the Wind, the Water and the Sun.
The third great division of the poem opens at line 663. It is very short and has the appearance, (as has been suggested by Sederholm and others) of being a subsequent addition. This poem must have been written immediately after the disaster, as the appeals for help go to show. When Ígoŕ escaped, this jubilant appendix was added.
The first section (ll. 663-693) describes how Ígoŕ escaped at night from captivity, during a drunken feast. He had to be persuaded against his will, and removed by his fear of being murdered before he would adopt this course of breaking parole. His groom Ovlur, Vlur or Lavor obtained him the means of evasion.
There follows (ll. 694-718) a curious dialogue between Ígoŕ and the river Donéts, in which the clemency of the river-god to Ígoŕ is contrasted with the cruelty of the Stugná to young Rostíslav Vsévolodic at the battle of 1093 against the Pólovtsy.
Still more remarkable is the following section (ll. 719-744), a conversation between Gzak and Končák, the Polovsk leaders: the good omens cease and these two discuss what will be the outcome of the escape. They say that Ígoŕ's son will marry a daughter of one of their chieftains during his captivity, but this will not be to the advantage of the nomads.
The fourth section (ll. 745-753) contains a reference, possibly a quotation, from Boyán, probably an outline of the history of the princes whom he celebrated; and the quotation is made to bear upon the Ígoŕ of 1185.
The fifth section (751-770) concludes the poem and mainly consists of an account of Ígoŕ's return, the joy it spread, and a conventional ending not unlike that of the later ballads: some of this conclusion might be spurious.
Allusions and historical references are very aptly introduced, and serve to make, out of the bard's commemoration, a little epic in which the life of medieval Russia is faithfully and appositely illustrated; one, too in which much poetry of very high quality abounds.
xxxvii:† More probably Román Mstíslavič (v. note).